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Australia Day

From an educational point of view Australia Day is an opportunity for teachers to have students explore the history and the different view-points that Australians have of this national day by using  the content descriptions provided in the Australian Curriculum. Teaching about Australia Day can be included in the learning areas of History, Geography and Civics and Citizenship and in the General Capabilities of Intercultural Understanding and Interpersonal and Social Capability and the Cross Curriculum Priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures.

Here are some examples of content descriptions of the Australian Curriculum  that can be related to different aspects of Australia Day.  

  • Year 3 History- Days and weeks celebrated or commemorated in Australia (including Australia Day, Anzac Day, and National Sorry Day) and the importance of symbols and emblems 
  • Year 3 HistoryHow the community has changed and remained the same over time and the role that people of diverse backgrounds have played in the development and character of the local community
  • Year 8 Civics and Citizenship - Different perspectives about Australia’s national identity, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, and what it means to be Australian 
  • Year 3 and 4 Visual Arts -Identify intended purposes and meanings of artworks using visual arts terminology to compare artworks, starting with visual artworks in Australia including visual artworks of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 
  • Year 4 HASS Inquiry SkillsExamine information to identify different points of view and distinguish facts from opinions


Dealing with the Issues of Australia Day, Civics and Citizenship Content  and Inquiry 


To Better Understand Australia Day 

An article by Nick Robson

To better understand the celebration of Australia Day, it is necessary to understand the history of the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales and other aspects relating thereto.


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From the Editorial: Re-writing history?  SEAQ Newsletter September  2017

Dealing with the topic of Australia Day, many media comments have referred to any suggestion about changing the date as an attempt to re-write history. (Historians always rewrite history.) Arguments for changing the date centre around the notion that it cannot be a celebration of our Australian lifestyle and achievements if it is also a day regarded by our First Peoples as representing loss of land and agency in their lives. Most other nations that began as colonies celebrate their independence from the parent country as their national day. Settlement as a penal colony was once a source of shame for many.

Arguments against changing the date include the following: that the European settlement that began our way of life began on the 26th January 1788; that if the British had not settled then another European nation would have; that the Aborigines were living a primitive lifestyle and should have been grateful for the comforts of western civilisation; that 'this is now and why can't they get over it and move on', and also that it is a public holiday at the most convenient time of the year.

Added to these arguments is the attempt by two Victorian Councils to move their Australia Day citizenship ceremonies to another day to accommodate indigenous sensitivities (regarded by the federal government as politicising and delegitimising such ceremonies and therefore not to be allowed), and the defacing of a statue of James Cook , which has led to another discussion about removing statues of those whose actions do not conform to modern attitudes and mores.

The phrase, attributed to Voltaire, that states:  "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it" is often invoked in situations like this. However, where history is concerned, not all knowledge or opinions are equal and all history is contestable.  However, to be valid, opinions must be based on verifiable evidence.  (Observance of this rule may lead to the end of fake news.?)

So, to some questions, points of interest and possible answers:

  •    Did James Cook discover Australia and should he be vilified because he suggested the use of the land by Britain? Cook was a magnificent navigator who was under orders to look for the eastern coast of a landmass that was already known by the Dutch, Portuguese and an Englishman, Dampier, as New Holland. Cook found (through European eyes) and explored the coastline, and claimed that coastline for the British crown, naming it New South Wales. Cook had orders to be friendly to the native inhabitants. In his journal he stated that "From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans ...".(Cook's journal)
  •     Did Governor Phillip land and claim the rest of Australia for Britain on the 26th January 1788? : It may seem like nitpicking, but there was no Australia when Phillip landed (at Botany Bay on 18th January). Finding insufficient fresh water he explored and finally raised the British flag at Sydney Cove, NSW, on 26th January. However, in international law of the time, this was not legal until he read the proclamation from the King on 7th February 1788. The proclamation claimed  that NSW consisted of the eastern half of the continent to 135 degrees E longitude (near Uluru. The rest was still New Holland). After Matthew Flinders concluded his circumnavigation of the continent in 1804 he suggested the name Australia for the continent. The British Government approved of the name for the continent in 1824.
  •   There was no guarantee that the whole continent would become British. Other European countries were looking for colonies - Dutch, Portuguese and especially the French. Just in case, in 1826 the British set up a new (free) colony at Albany in the south west, and another on the Swan River in 1828, to pre-empt the French. On 9 May 1829 Captain Fremantle  took formal possession in the name of King George IV of "all that part of New Holland which is not included within the territory of New South Wales" (this part later named Western Australia). Now there was a continent called Australia dotted with a number of British colonies, mostly convict, but SA (always) and WA (at that time) were free.
  •    There was no formal nation called Australia until federation in 1901 (though the term was obviously used). Before 1901 Australia was not a nation, but a collection of six British colonies. The colonies were almost like separate countries; for example, each had its own government and laws, its own defence force, issued its own stamps and collected tariffs (taxes) on goods that crossed its borders.
  •   There was no guarantee that these colonies would federate. In the late 1800s, popular debate in Australia about the idea of federating revealed there were many different opinions. The discussions lasted for a decade, and WA and Queensland were initially very opposed because they felt so far removed from Sydney and Melbourne. In the final referendum both colonies waited till they knew the result elsewhere and then voted Yes. New Zealand was a dependency of New South Wales from 1840 until the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1841, but had participated in Australian colonial conferences since the 1860s and was invited to join the federation. New Zealand is included within section 6 of the Preamble of the Australian Constitution and can theoretically join our federation at any time it likes. We could have been a very different country (or countries).
  •    The tradition of having Australia Day as a national holiday on 26 January is a recent one. Not until 1935 did all the Australian states and territories use that name to mark that date. Not until 1994 did they begin to celebrate Australia Day consistently as a public holiday on that date. Governor Macquarie marked the 30th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1818, thereafter called Landing Day or Foundation Day.  For the 50th anniversary the other colonies believed it was too Sydney-centric (especially the free ones)  and celebrated their own beginnings, rather than that of New South Wales which was not their 'parent ' colony. (Qld and Victoria separated from the parent in the 1850s). The colonies beyond New South Wales acknowledged the significance of Anniversary Day in 1888 though this seemed to be due as much to their British background as to their feelings for the continent they shared. During World War I, 30 July 1915 became Australia Day: a way of raising funds for the war. With the arrival of many non-British migrants after WW2 an Australia Day Committee was formed. Its purpose was to educate the public (especially migrant children) about our way of life and about the significance of Australia Day. ".... a fresh approach to Australia Day". The long weekend gave way to the day itself in 1994, and ten years later Canberra displaced Sydney as the day's focal point. The celebration of a national day can continue to evolve.

If the point of developing a fresh approach to Australia Day post-war was an educative one for non-British migrants, perhaps there is room for another fresh approach today to foster reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

We could make our national day truly inclusive by (a) choosing a day that does not remind indigenous people of  how the loss of their land has led specifically to intergenerational trauma for many (most?) of them; and (b)  providing an opportunity to educate all Australians about the rich complexity of traditional cultures so that all of us develop greater respect for our First Peoples. In light of the above editorial, it could be a date post-1901 that is a positive one for Aborigines. For example, the day of the 1967 Referendum, after which those who identified as Aboriginal could be counted in the census (27/5/1967); the day that Gough Whitlam handed land back to the Gurindji (16/8/75); the day of the Mabo decision on land rights (3/6/1992); the day of Paul Keating's Redfern Speech, (10/12/92) - the first public admission of what was taken from them; Kevin Rudd's Apology to the Stolen Generations (13/2/2008) .....

Having a national day is important, but it must be one that is significant, that ALL Australians want to celebrate.

Information largely from :   https://www.statusquo.org/aru_html/html/ausday.html#Proclamtion%3B%20https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FAustralia_Day%3B%20https%3A%2F%2Fwww.australiaday.org.au%2Faustralia-day%2Fhistory%2F


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